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Covering Politics, Policy and School Leadership at Upcoming Washington Week

A Q&A with Paul Katnik

AACTE’s 2023 Washington Week, June 4-7, is a legislative conference designed to enhance member advocacy skills, including Congressional visits while promoting policies to support educator preparation programs. Regarding academic censorship legislation, school leaders are at the intersection of the implications of proposed or passed legislation and how they affect student’s learning and the mental well-being of everyone working within our nation’s P-20 institutions. In a Wallace Foundation report by lead author Linda-Darling HammondDeveloping Effective Principals: What Kind of Learning Matters, the research tells us that for school leaders to serve their primary objective, to serve and be inclusive of all students, they must be provided quality principal preparation programs that are equity-oriented. How can our school leaders meet their objective if policies are explicitly, or through an induced chilling climate, preventing them from even discussing how to teach diverse learners and the history and context in which diverse students live?

Educator preparation professionals are invited to join AACTE’s premier advocacy event to exchange ideas with like-minded colleagues and leaders and advocate for positive change in educational policies. Take a look at the full schedule of sessions and register by May 31 to save your spot.

This year, efforts to chip away at an educator’s ability and autonomy to serve all students have not let up, based on the number of proposed anti-DEI, bills. At this year’s Washington Week conference, “Politics, Policy and School Leadership,” a moderated panel session featuring state education agencies, principals, and policy experts, will explore how school leaders can address the current landscape and tactics of censorship tactics.  

The “Politics, Policy and School Leadership” session will feature Paul Katnik, assistant commissioner of the Office of Educator Quality for the Missouri Department of Education. Missouri is a state that has seen anti-LGBTQ+, CRT, and DEI bills introduced over the last several years. Below Katnik answers a few questions about the topics that he will discuss at the Washington Week session and his advice to school leadership stakeholders. 

Q. You have had years of experience working with the Wallace Foundation to prepare effective and equitable school leaders.  What can attendees expect to learn about the Wallace research and its application in educator preparation programs (EPPs)?

Over the past 20 years, the Wallace Foundation has made an invaluable contribution through the research they have provided on effective and equitable school leadership. Putting that research into action and using it to drive policies and initiatives that result in measurable impact, which is certainly the most challenging part, is the focus of our work here in Missouri.  

Q. When it comes to the wave of anti-LGBTQ+, anti-CRT, anti-DEI, and other censorship legislation, school leaders need to approach the issue from at least two perspectives: the effects of legislation and that of politics. While legislated policies have limited direct effects in scope and geography, politics, and the climate it creates for school leaders can be felt nationwide. In your experience at the Missouri Department of Education, how do the divisive politics at the local, state, and federal levels reverberate throughout school leadership systems?

There is no doubt that school leaders find themselves on the front lines when it comes to the effects of current legislation and the politics that drive those decisions. The critical focus of the school leader has always been and must continue to be on the success of each and every student and each and every staff member in their school. For the school leader, “the most important thing is to keep the most important thing the most important thing.”

Q. Multi-stakeholder collaboration has been critical to the success of Wallace School leadership initiatives. How do EPPs factor into a counterapproach that allows school leaders to create inclusive learning environments amidst the chilling climate of censorship?

Here in Missouri, our educator preparation program partners are critical to the work of the Missouri Leadership Development (MLDS), which currently serves 1,600 practicing principals and assistant principals as well as hundreds of principal candidates. On the 23 campuses that offer principal preparation, MLDS content is embedded in coursework, is the foundation of the internship experience and the performance assessment and is the language for principal certification. Our EPP partners ensure that principal candidates successfully complete these.  

Paul Katnik is the assistant commissioner of the Office of Educator Quality.  Katnik has been in education for over three decades working with children of all ages, PK-12, as both a teacher and a building principal. He has served at the Department of Education for over 15 years, as a supervisor, director, and currently as assistant commissioner. He was instrumental in coordinating the state model Educator Evaluation System, revising teacher and leader preparation programs, developing the state’s Educator Equity Plan, creating the Missouri Leadership Development System and Missouri Teacher Development System. He has led the efforts to address teacher shortage issues through implementation of teacher recruitment and retention grants and increasing teacher compensation. Katnik earned his BA in elementary education from Texas Tech University, his master’s in educational psychology from University of Mississippi and his doctorate degree at University of Missouri-St. Louis in Spring 2014.